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Another Reason to Eat Your Broccoli…Or Sprouts

Posted Jun 23 2009 6:34pm

You may or may not have heard about a bacterium called Heliobacter pylori – H. pylori for short. Broccoli sprouts It’s a unique bug that can survive in the acid of the stomach. We need to know about it because infection with H. pylori is associated with irritation of the stomach wall, ulcers and even stomach cancer.

The H. pylori story is one of my favorites. I like to remind my colleagues of it when they seem to be a little resistant to a new way of looking at health and wellness.

You see, 20 years or so ago, no one had heard of H. pylori. Ulcers were common and the medical world had a whole theory on what caused them (back in the day, it was all about stomach acid and the resistance of the lining of the stomach to that acid).  Experiments seemed to support that theory.

Not only that, we had treatments, both medical and surgical, based on that theory that worked.

There was no mention of H. pylori infection as part of the cause of stomach and duodenal ulcers. In fact, when I was in medical school they taught us that bacteria couldn’t survive in stomach acid.

So when a “crazy” Australian researcher claimed that this weird bacterium he found was really the cause of ulcers, the medical establishment responded with ridicule.

Now, of course, medical professionals know the danger  of H. pylori. I think this story also makes a point about the importance of keeping an open mind and not being too sure of what we think we know.

Back to H. pylori…

Treatment of H. pylori reduces the risk of recurrent ulcers as well as the risk of stomach cancers.

However, eradicating H. pylori with traditional medications often proves to be difficult. Physicians typically treat the infection with at least three drugs for 2 or sometimes 4 weeks. Even with that, the success rate is only around 80%.

Now there’s good evidence that a simple green sprout added to your diet can reduce or eliminate H. pylori.

The sprout is question is broccoli. You’ve probably heard that vegetables of the cruciferous class (broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, Brussels sprouts and so forth) are especially good for you. There is any number of beneficial nutrients in these vegetables, but one compound that has been studied extensively is sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical that triggers the production of beneficial enzymes in the stomach. These enzymes protect against inflammation, free radicals and DNA damage — and have a number of health benefits.

Previous studies have shown regular inclusion of vegetables containing sulforaphane protect against several types of cancer (including bladder cancer), heart disease and may even help arthritis.

Sulforaphane levels are 50 times higher in broccoli sprouts than they are in mature broccoli, and now there’s evidence that broccoli sprouts are effective against H. pylori.

In a study in mice infected with H. pylori, over 70% percent of the infections were cleared in the treated group while none were cleared in the placebo group. 1

Other laboratory studies have shown that sulforaphane kills over 90% of tested strains of H. pylori, even those resistant to antibiotics, by 2 mechanisms – induced enzymes and direct effect. 2

A more important study in humans infected with H. pylori showed significant suppression of H. pylori infection, if not complete eradication, in people who ate about 2 ounces of broccoli sprouts a day. 3

You can make your own sprouts, but they’re widely available under the brand name BroccoSprouts. If I can find them in my little town in upstate New York, you can probably find them where you are.

Even if you don’t have any concerns about H. pylori, including broccoli sprouts in your diet regularly is still a great idea.  It’s another example of why we all should emphasize a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in our diets.

References

  1. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2003 December; 47(12): 3982–3984.
  2. PNAS. May 28, 2002 vol. 99; no. 11; 7610-7615.
  3. Cancer Prevention Research. 2, 353, April 1, 2009.

[ Ed. Note: Joseph F. McCaffrey, MD, FACS is a board-certified surgeon with extensive experience in alternative medicine, including certification as a HeartMath Trainer.  His areas of expertise include mind-body interaction and cognitive restructuring.  Dr. McCaffrey strives to help people attain their optimum level of vitality through attention to all aspects of wellness.  For more information, click here. ]

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